In the weeks leading up to the draft, Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman repeatedly said that the Eagles were going to take the best player on the board when their time came. If that were true, the team’s selection would indicate that Smith was the 26th-best player in the draft, something that initially seems reminiscent of selecting Brandon Graham with the No. 13 overall pick in 2010 over Earl Thomas, Dez Bryant, Rob Gronkowski and Demaryius Thomas.
Like 2010, it seems initially as though they went for a need (pass rusher), not the best player available. If that were not the case, Texas A&M University —and now Cleveland Browns —quarterback Johnny Manziel would have been selected. Instead, teams without a need at the quarterback position passed over him.
So the Eagles simply settled for a need. They just reached on it, too, something that does not return the most value to the organization.
Some say you cannot grade teams’draft selections until years into the future, but it is a foolish oversight. If a team traded up and selected Boston College’s Nate Freese, a seventh-round kicker, with the first overall selection, you would not need five years to tell you they botched the pick. You also do not need to see how well he played to say whether they brought the most possible value back with that particular selection.
It appears as though the Eagles actually misread the draft and where players would fall.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated claims that the Eagles were looking to select Louisiana State University’s Odell Beckham Jr. or Virginia Polytechnic and State University’s Kyle Fuller with the No. 22 pick, and once those players were off the board, they held an auction through trades for the pick. But those players went with picks Nos. 12 and 14, respectively, not picks Nos. 20 and 21, so the Eagles severely misread things. Then, when they dropped down to No. 26, they still did not have a target so it would seem they settled for the reach.
In the King report, he also claims that Cleveland, who traded for the No. 22 pick to select Manziel, and Minnesota were jockeying for the pick to select a QB. It perhaps would have been the right move again to trade back with Minnesota to give them the No. 26 pick so they could select Teddy Bridgewater, which they did after trading with Seattle.
The team, of course, will not outright admit things did not go the way they wanted. But head coach Chip Kelly seemed rather frustrated when speaking at his news conference following the selection. He seemed very dissatisfied with how things shook out.
In particular, when a reporter asked him who was ranked higher on the board, Smith or another prospect, Kelly was critical of the reporter’s stuttering. In most chances like that, the coach would talk up the guy he just selected rather than worry about how the reporter delivered the question. It indicated frustration, and he was taking his anger out on someone else.
If Smith and pass-rushers were in high demand, at least one more would have been selected after the Eagles selected Smith. But none did shortly thereafter, and the next outside linebacker pass rushertaken was the next day, 14 picks later, nearly half of the teams gone by.
Smith may or may not be a potentially great defensive player. This is not the point. If the Eagles did misread the draft board and took a guy that would be there in later rounds with their first round pick, they did not do the best job possible. Five years from now, he may play like a first round pick and it may earn a “B”or higher when re-graded in the future, but that does not account for the pick not returning the most value.
Imagine paying Eagles running back LeSean McCoy $120 million against the salary cap. You may want McCoy and he may be the best player, but there is more value to be had spending that money elsewhere. Instead, it is wiser to spend $10 million on McCoy and use the other $110 million on other players that can help.
The tradeoffs of having other good players is the stronger alternative than just doing what it takes to grab the guy you want. Smith may be a great contributor to the team and the guy they wanted, but like allocating too much money to a player, allocating a misused draft selection against the tradeoff of collecting other talented players is not a smart decision. Trading down a bit and selecting Smith plus additional picks is better than just Smith.
If it was possible to get Smith in a later round, the Eagles failed in doing what was best for the overall draft and overall organization, which is leaving the draft with the most value possible. And that will never change, even if Smith eventually plays like an “A+”player.